Having concluded my ten day excursion to Egypt, here are some brief thoughts on the impending changes that the country faces, and how UNESCO has an important role to play in supporting further development.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) areas see a growing proportion of young people leaving school (or other relevant education setting) with poor prospects for employment or further training. Enrolment and literacy rates are low, and there is sufficient evidence to support the claim that progression into a positive destination (what I would class as Higher and Further Education, Employment, Training and Volunteering) is low; underpinning issues in education performance.
As global economies gear up for curriculum reform, there is common acceptance that digital learning and related pedagogy is essential to both stimulate today’s young people and to keep them engaged; but also to equip them with the skills that they need for learning life and work, and to compete in a global market where, in the current economic climate, competition for jobs and a place in learning has never been higher. As these countries also see a rise in the population of young people, it means that those in Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq and Libya face additional pressure. The goals of Education For All has never been more crucial.
This also means that these education systems find it difficult to attract high calibre professionals and learning and teaching has become static, based on older and more traditional methodology.
There has been considerable effort to date and the issues are well recognised. The MENA countries don’t have the same structures in place that other global areas have access to. For example, third sector provision to crucial delivering learning opportunities to those young people who may require more intensive support during the post-school transition process; indeed these tend to be more prevalent in other corners of the international landscape.
In my opinion, moving forward, there requires more focus on the cohesion between primary and secondary education and then into the labour market. Developing young people’s skills to meet the current and future needs of the economy is vital and this must remain at the core of curriculum reform, underpinned by a culture of performance management and accountability. Better articulation between services such as education and health is needed, and incentives to ‘do better’ when integrating portfolios should be introduced. Industrial infrastructure often outweighs commercial and retail services and producing links between these areas and education would have obvious benefits; through training and employment beyond school and through skills matching, meeting tomorrow’s need is vital. Likewise, there should be clear routes into the labour market which suit the abilities and aspirations of the young people, whether academic or vocational and each route must be recognised in its own right.
Lastly, communication and engaging with professionals and young people is an absolute; giving more devolved power to individual institutions and organisations where appropriate. One cannot escape the media coverage of some of the unique issues faced by the MENA countries. It will be interesting to see how education reform unfolds across the area, and I suggest that there a four priority areas for sustainable development.
- Autonomy – allowing schools and teachers to be innovative in their approach to meeting the needs of individual young people within the curriculum framework;
- Responsibility – implementing a transparent assessment system to underpin performance management and accountability;
- Variety – encouraging a variety of subject choices to deepen understanding, which are relevant to the needs of the young people and which develop skills in literacy, numeracy and health and well-being; and
- Choice – utilising a programme of careers information, advice and guidance and providing support to those young people who need it, so that they sustain a place in learning, can contribute to society and to the economy.
In conclusion, during my visit, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova undertook an official visit to Egypt in order to show UNESCO’s support for the transformation processes underway. The visit followed an invitation from Dr Ahmed Gamal El-din Moussa, Egypt’s Minister of Education. Ms Bokova commended the Prime Minister for the decision to increase the budget allocated to education by three-fold and she offered UNESCO’s expertise in the priority areas of literacy, girl’s education, teacher training, as well as technical and vocational training. The Director-General also offered UNESCO’s longstanding experience to support Egypt’s new legislation on freedom of expression.
Certainly, I will return to Egypt next year to mark the progress made and I will continue to support and contribute my own expertise wherever possible; either through the Community of Practice or directly with local colleagues. Watch this space for further developments; it’s an exciting time indeed!